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Willoughby Theatre Company: Mamma Mia! - Review by Daniel Conway

I think my relationship to ABBA is pretty indicative of most millennials, that is to say I had a parent who would blast ABBA Gold while cleaning the house or going on a car trip of any length of time. As a result of this near universal experience Mamma Mia, therefore, is a show that knows what it is there to do, leave you smiling, singing and thinking gosh, I really retained a lot of those lyrics by osmosis. Willoughby Theatre Company has done an amazing job of bringing this show to life.

This version of Mamma Mia was two years in the making, having suffered the wrath of COVID. This is a fact that I didn’t know before reading the program on the car ride home, however it really explains a lot. It explains the small details from the costuming to the props and to the staging. And it explains the obvious love of theatre that was emanating off that stage. As one of the many in the amateur theatre world who had shows taken away from us by COVID, it makes my heart happy to see this show succeed.

The production team lead by Declan Moore (Director), Amy Curtin (Choreographer) and Matthew Herne (Musical Director) should be so proud of what they have done. Sometimes it is hard to find a word for a show and the one I have settled on is ‘Glossy’.The show feels like a picture book with beautiful rich colours, utilising haze and other theatre effects at the right moments to make these 'beautiful' scenes. The set pieces are stunning and everything is moved mostly seamlessly, hats off to the work of Tess Bourguignon as stage manager for coordinating the set changes.Visuals aside, I can not express how beautiful the ensemble sounds. Hernes’ work is so on display at all times with the beautiful harmonies that uplift every song. There were moments where the leads, while doing a fantastic job on their own, were just elevated by the ensemble whose voices added depth and created a wall of sound worthy of ABBA. Curtins’ choreography was fun, cheeky and hit the right tone for this show.

The anchor of this show was the beautiful performances of Stephanie Edmonds and Karen Oliver as Sophie and Donna respectively. Edmonds delivers a performance that really embodies the youthful chaos that is Sophie. Her voice is stunning and she has a wonderful presence on stage. The relationship between Sophie and Donna feels lived in. As an audience member you have no doubt these two women mean everything to each other. Oliver is a leading lady. She makes it all look easy, like this isn’t the product of months of rehearsal, like she isn’t even acting. She is charming and engaging throughout the entirety of the show, but the second act is where she really shines. The back to back performances of “Slipping Through My Fingers” and “The Winner Takes It All” really show the depth of her skill, creating a genuine emotional connection between her performance and the material.

Janina Hamerlok and Tisha Kelemen are stand outs as Donnas’ Dynamos - Tanya and Rosie. Both of these women are just delightful to watch and make every scene they are on stage feel like a moment. From the moment these ladies step on the stage they are immediately entertaining and have a friendship that feels fully realised. It doesn’t matter if they are singing together, supporting Donna or rocking out in their own standout solos these women control the stage and thoroughly own it.

Not to be outdone by the powerhouse women, we have the three dads. Sam, Harry and Bill are played by Geoff Stone, Clive Hobson and Scott Kimpton and they do a great job of playing off each other to create really distinct characters. Stone plays the romantic lead and he brings a warm and kind energy to the role which makes his performance of "SOS" particularly earnest. Hobson as Harry is a delight, his voice is sweet and his performance made me smile. It was clear he was having fun, and that energy was infectious. Kimpton has a confidence and a physicality in his performance that really makes him shine and he has the funniest drop trou moment in the show (of which there are many). Rounding out the leading men is, of course, Blake Lovely as Sky. Lovely is charming and grounded as the supportive partner who is just head over heels in love.

This is an impressive show and an overall testament to the hard work and dedication of the entire cast and crew. It thoroughly earned its standing ovation on opening night, and then, not to be outdone, the encore had the audience singing and dancing in the aisles. Do yourself a favour and book a ticket.

I give this production 4.5 Wedding invitations from lost lovers out of 5

Photos courtesy of Grant Leslie

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